United States presidential transition
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United States presidential transition is the transfer of federal executive branch power from the incumbent President of the United States to the president-elect, during the period of time between election day in November (on the first Tuesday after November 1), and inauguration day on the following January 20. At its heart, a single step—taking the presidential oath of office—accomplishes this transfer. However, a successful transition between the outgoing, or "lame duck" administration and the incoming administration begins with pre-election planning and continues through inauguration day. It involves key personnel from the outgoing and incoming presidents’ staffs, requires resources, and includes a host of activities, such as vetting candidates for positions in the new administration, helping to familiarize the incoming administration with the operations of the executive branch, and developing a comprehensive policy platform.
Presidential transitions have existed in one form or another since 1797, when George Washington handed over the presidency to John Adams. Some have gone smoothly, many have been bumpy and a few verged on catastrophic. Formal mechanisms to facilitate them were first enshrined in law in the Presidential Transitions Act of 1963. They are one of the least public but most important parts of any presidential election. With only 72 to 78 days between election day and inauguration day, good governance experts and recent federal officials have been pushing for candidates to start planning a potential administration earlier and earlier in the election calendar. The most recent transition was the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration, which concluded on January 20, 2017, with the swearing in of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States.
For much of American history, presidential transitions were carried out without very much advance planning or even cooperation from the sitting chief executive. A president-elect was not expected to come to the nation’s capital until the inauguration and had few if any substantial policy or procedural discussions with the outgoing administration. President Harry Truman charted a positive course by extending his hand to President-elect Dwight D. Eisenhower after the 1952 election, inviting him to the White House and ordering federal agencies to assist the new administration with the transition. John F. Kennedy funded his own (1960-61) transition just like his predecessors, and engaged in extensive transition planning on domestic and foreign policy issues, but did not meet with Eisenhower until January 6, 1961, two months after the election.
The Presidential Transition Act of 1963 Pub.L. 88–277, as amended (by the Presidential Transitions Effectiveness Act of 1998 Pub.L. 100–398, Presidential Transition Act of 2000 Pub.L. 106–293, and Presidential Transitions Improvements Act of 2015 Pub.L. 114–136), established formal mechanisms to facilitate presidential transitions. Specifically, the act directs the Administrator of General Services to provide facilities, funding of approximately five million dollars, access to government services, and support for a transition team, and to provide training and orientation of new government personnel and other procedures to ensure an orderly transition.
The transition process begins as leading presidential contenders begin making preliminary plans for building an administration and assuming the presidency should they be elected. Candidate Mitt Romney established a transition team in June 2012 (after some preparatory work in April and May), which was before he became the Republican Party nominee. Barack Obama followed a similar timeline for establishing his transition team in 2008. During the most recent presidential election cycle, in 2016, Donald Trump began assembling his transition team in May, after he became the presumptive Republican nominee. His fall campaign opponent, Hillary Clinton, lagged behind in this regard, not forming a transition team until August, which was after she became the Democratic Party nominee. Key activities in this pre-election phase include: setting goals for the transition; assembling and organizing the key transition team staff; allocating responsibilities among the team and allocating resources and personnel for each core work stream; developing an overall management work plan to guide the team through the entire transition process; and establishing relationships with Congress, the outgoing administration, General Services Administration, the Office of Government Ethics, the FBI and the Office of Personnel Management to encourage information sharing and to begin the security clearance process for select personnel.
The actual transition phase begins immediately following the presidential election (barring any electoral disputes) when a sitting president is not re-elected or is concluding a second term, as election day marks the beginning of the end of their presidency. On the day after the most recent election, November 9, 2016, outgoing president Barack Obama made a statement from the Rose Garden of the White House in which he announced that he had spoken, the previous evening, with (apparent election winner) Donald Trump and formally invited him to the White House for discussions to ensure "that there is a successful transition between our presidencies". Obama said he had instructed his staff to "follow the example" of the George W. Bush administration in 2008, whom he said could "not have been more professional or more gracious in making sure we had a smooth transition". This phase of the process lasts between 72 and 78 days, ending on the inauguration day. During this time, the transition team must handle the influx of campaign staff and additional personnel into daily operations and prepare to take over the functions of government. Key activities in this phase include staffing the office of the president-elect; deploying agency review teams; building out the president-elect’s management and policy agendas and schedule; and identifying the key talent necessary to execute the new president’s priorities.
Noteworthy presidential transitions
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Perhaps the most notable transition in US history was the 1860–1861 transition from the administration of James Buchanan to the terms of Abraham Lincoln. Buchanan held the opinion that states did not have the right to secede, but that it was also illegal for the Federal government to go to war to stop them. Between the election on November 6, 1860 and inauguration on March 4, 1861, seven states seceded and conflict between secessionist and federal forces began, leading to the American Civil War between the Northern and Southern states.
In the 1876 election, disputes over 20 electoral votes in four states, along with numerous claims of vote fraud, sparked an intense political battle and effectively invalidated the election. This constitutional crisis was resolved only 2 days before the scheduled inauguration, through the so-called Compromise of 1877.
The 146 day–long presidential transition period (November 8, 1932 to March 4, 1933) at the end of Herbert Hoover's presidency, prior to the start of the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration, was also a difficult transition period. After the election, Roosevelt refused Hoover's requests for a meeting to come up with a joint program to stop the downward spiral and calm investors, claiming it would tie his hands, and as this "guaranteed that Roosevelt took the oath of office amid such an atmosphere of crisis that Hoover had become the most hated man in America". During this period of essentially leaderless government, the U.S. economy ground to a halt as thousands of banks failed. The relationship between Hoover and Roosevelt was one of the most strained between Presidents. While Hoover had little good to say about his successor, there was little he could do. FDR, however, supposedly could and did engage in various petty official acts aimed at his predecessor, ranging from dropping him from the White House birthday greetings message list to having Hoover's name struck from the Hoover Dam along the Colorado River border, which would officially be known only as Boulder Dam until 1947.
The transition between Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, was shortened by several weeks due to the Florida recount crisis that was only ended after the Supreme Court handed down its ruling in Bush v. Gore, which made Bush the president-elect.
On a more petty level, it was marred by accusations of "damage, theft, vandalism and pranks". The General Accounting Office (GAO) estimated the cost of those pranks at $13,000 to $14,000. They included graffiti in the men's bathroom at the White House, glue smeared on desk drawers, and missing doorknobs, medallions, and office signs. However, they note that similar pranks were reported in prior transitions, including the one from Bush's father to Clinton in 1993. Press secretary Ari Fleischer followed up the GAO report with a White House-produced list of alleged vandalism including removal of the W key from keyboards. The Clintons were also accused of keeping for themselves gifts meant for the White House. The Clintons denied the accusations, but agreed to pay more than $85,000 for gifts given to the first family "to eliminate even the slightest question" of impropriety.
The transition between Bush and Barack Obama was considered seamless, with Bush granting Obama's request to ask Congress to release $350 billion of bank bailout funds. At the start of his inaugural speech, Obama praised Bush "for his service to our nation, as well as the generosity and co-operation he has shown throughout this transition". The White House website was redesigned and “cut over” at exactly 12:01pm, January 20, 2009. This was described by some as a "new inaugural tradition spawned by the Internet-age". Additionally, the information system was provided to the Obama administration without a single electronic record from the previous administration. Not only were emails and photos removed from the environment at the 12:01pm threshold, data elements like phone numbers of individual offices and upcoming meetings for the senior staff were also removed. Nonetheless, by April 2012, the Bush administration had transferred electronic records for the presidential components within the Executive Office of the President to the NARA. Included in these records was more than 80 terabytes of data, more than 200 million emails and 4 million photos.
On November 9, 2016, the day after the presidential election, the Trump transition team announced that a transition website—greatagain.gov—had been launched. The website provided information on transition procedures and information for the media. The website was later criticized for reposting content originally created by the Partnership for Public Service, however, Partnership CEO Max Stier declined to criticize the use and noted that the organization had been working with the major campaigns on transition planning, explaining that he hoped the group's materials would be "a resource that is used for the betterment of transitions". Content on the transition website was licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
The team was led by Vice President-elect Mike Pence. It has six vice-chairs, including former transition head Chris Christie, Ben Carson, Newt Gingrich, Michael Flynn, Rudy Giuliani and Jeff Sessions.
List of presidential transitions
The first transfer of federal executive branch power from an incumbent president to a president-elect was the Washington–Adams transition following the 1796 election. The most recent was the Obama–Trump transition following the 2016 election.
- Midnight regulations, rules created by an outgoing administration before it leaves office
- Contingent election, procedure used in U.S. presidential elections in cases where no candidate wins an absolute majority of votes in the Electoral College
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Except where otherwise noted, content on this site is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License. Content includes all materials posted by the Trump Presidential transition. Visitors to this website agree to grant a non-exclusive, irrevocable, royalty-free license to the rest of the world for their submissions to this website under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
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